Diocesan Music Commission

About eight times a year, I attend the music commission meeting of my diocese. It’s one of the few opportunities I have to chat with colleagues from other parishes and from the chancery.

Some mixed news from my friends today. One of our members is leaving his church position to enter seminary for a nearby archdiocese. Another member was informed that despite high performance reviews, his job is being restructured from music to music-plus-liturgy. He was invited to apply with other candidates for an open position, but understandably chose to decline this “vote of confidence.” Why do pastors shoot themselves so badly in the foot? It’s hard enough to find a concert-quality organist who can enhance a parish music program every possible upward direction. You want to roll the dice to find somebody with both a liturgy and music background? Nothing like alienating a whole music ministry, parents and students, and others while heading into the expense and the unknown of a job search.

I’ll also be finishing up on the Commission this year, having completed my three-year term. I could renew for another 36 months, but with our parish likely heading into a major building campaign, plus my other ministry at a children’s hospital, I think I have enough to keep me busy.

Our diocesan liturgy director reported on NPM’s Winter Colloquium in Arlington, Virginia. It prompted a lot of … vigorous discussion at our meeting today. The inside news is that the CDWDS and the pope are pushing for an English implementation “with due speed.” Perhaps they overlook that was the problem the first time in the late 60’s. Liam will be disappointed to know that a significant transition period is pretty much off the table. When the new translation comes out–which could still be as far in the future as five years–we will have six months to a year to implement.

There doesn’t seem to be any concern from Rome on a list of songs, hymns, and psalms.  Apparantly episcopal oversight in the publishers’ sees will be deemed sufficient.

I asked about vernacular-original prayers in other language groups. At the moment it’s unclear if the Italians and others will be able to keep their well-rendered “alternate” prayers when their language groups are asked to comply with Liturgiam Authenticam.

While GIA was telling parishes last Fall that they will offer supplements to parishes that have bought their hymnals, there may be some backtracking from that position. Apparently, some composers are telling the publisher that perhaps it’s time to give some old compositions an honorable rest. No word on exactly who and what was covered by that sentiment, so maybe the MoC will be put to bed.

The publishers are strongly urging parish musicians not to adapt old Mass settings themselves. Apart from copyright problems, there’s the recognition that different musicians would adapt Mass settings in different ways: a problem for parish-hoppers.

I had to leave early to run a Holy Week-related errand, then pick up my daughter at school. We had a nice discussion on the way home about lots of things. I love having mature conversations with a ten-year-old.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Diocesan Music Commission

  1. Liam says:

    Yes, Todd, I am disappointed by the reported lack of interest in providingdue time to phase in. It’s going to be tough on the missalette publishers, too, because they publish stock pretty far in advance….

    Perhaps the USCCB will get away with a “core repertoire” approach after all, in spite of what Liturgiam Authenticam says. But those gritty details could come acropper later in the process, of course.

    I am not surprised at all by the reaction of composers and the publishers regarding revisions. I will say that it bespeaks a lack of pastoral liturgical concern for the PIPs. I would love to seen diocesan music commissions pick up the slack from the USCCB on pressuring the major publishers to commit to commissioning worthy settings of the revised vernacular ordinary in different idioms* from serious master composers in those idioms, especially including composers from outside the publishers’ current stables of talent.

    * Such as:

    -Plainsong and chant (we could use several settings, and this is the most basic need)
    -Congregational-cum-choral through-composed
    -Contemporary ensembles
    -Gospel-music-inflected (which I consider distinguishable from contemporary; I am not talking P&W style here, but the kind of music I’ve witnessed at good exemplars of this style, such as at St Columba’s in Oakland CA)

  2. Gavin says:

    I would be interested in sitting in on my Diosecean Music Committee, although I’ve been told nothing of substance gets accomplished there. Still, it seems like a good way to network with other musicians in the diocese.

    With all this talk of changing translations, I’m wondering what specific approach you guys that want a long transition period (Liam and Todd) take to introducing new service music? For me it’s a matter of having a card in the pews (our hymnal doesn’t have much worth using), announcing the change before Mass, and usually a run-through of each part. If it’s particularly difficult, I’ll have the choir sing it as a solo for a few weeks before a strong introduction. Would the new Gloria, Sanctus, etc. really take THAT much work to learn? And as I said, if we all get to work learning the chant ordinaries, there’s nothing to worry about, since you can rely on those after the translation switch as something familiar.

  3. Liam says:


    Actually, I am with you on giving the PIPs (excluding the usual loud-mouthed whiners who hate to encounter new settings of the ordinary because they basically object in principle to an expectation that “unimportant” service music should be sung) way more credit than is usually given them in terms of new ordinary settings. I find, however, that many Catholic music directors are extraordinarily timid about this issue, and proffer all sorts of reasons to remain so, though my informed intuition is that it has more to do with a kind of efficiency (if you only have 2-4 settings of the ordinary to use over the course of a year, then you have all that extra energy to devote to the “juicier” bits, which of course completely inverts the Catholic liturgical music hierarchy) that is a baleful habit in many quarters. As I’ve noted before, the common practice of using the same settings of the ordinary for weeks and even months on end deepens this problem and this should be seen by music directors and the PIPs as an opportunity to overcome that crutch.

    I would love to overturn that kind of habit in one fell swoop, but my conservative temperment realizes it’s unrealistic. Hence my agitation for more time, because it will allow more time for the timid to become proactive rather than reactive, which is the default posture of the timid. Under the gun, people tend to go to their default postures.

  4. Todd says:

    I remember the experience of weekly shifts in Mass parts when I played in ensembles in college. Our pastor/chaplain eventually convinced us all to decide on a Mass setting and maintain it for familiarity’s sake. I don’t run the Mass setting at my weekly practices as a matter of course, but I devote lots of time to the psalm. Natch, other directors focus on the anthem instead.

    I’m not sure I’d attribute the composers pulling their stuff as being insensitive as much as it speaks of a fatigue on two levels. First, if I were to revisit music I wrote in the 80’s (and I occasionally do) I tend to do more than just tinker with a word or two or a note or two. I write and compose differently today, and that would be reflected in my output. I’m sure some other composers might feel the same way, and I can respect that. Marty Haugen, say, might tell GIA, “You know, I’ve written some better stuff than MoC and rather than revisit that, I’d like to you promote another setting instead.” And GIA might say, “No, thanks.”

    I was hearing a lot of this at the meeting: a fatigue with Liturgiam Authenticam and a sense that “we’ve” been the ones at liturgical reform in the trenches for ten, twenty, thirty years–not Arinze, Medina and the curia. I’m not surprised that some folks are shaking the dust from their sandals and leaving town, so to speak. I’m not going to try to talk them out of it.

    Our diocesan liturgy director was urging calm, keeping the needs of the people in the pews forefront, and all. He has a sell-job no less daunting than when the bishops will tell their clergy to use the new words. I don’t envy their jobs. I’m not going to make it more difficult with intransigence on my part. I’ll be critical where criticism is called for, but I’ll also implement because I believe it’s the right thing to do.

  5. Gavin says:


    For a large city parish, I would advise 7 as a maximum number of settings, and that’s 1 per “season”: Advent – Christmas – Winter OT – Lent – Easter – Summer OT – Fall OT. And that seems like a lot to me. Maybe use one or two of those for daily Mass? As for introducing, I am trying to alternate (by “season”) between using a familiar setting and using a new one for a bit. So by the time I leave, I’m hoping that we’ll have a good 5 or so settings under our belts. There have been some things I’ve introduced that have turned out as flukes, but in general the congregation catches on well, even with Latin parts. Certainly Todd’s example of a new setting per week is a bad idea, although (and this is off-topic) I’d say at a college they should know a few “out there” settings and chants, as well as a “standard” like Community Mass for big events.

    My point is that I don’t see 6 months as too little time for congregations to learn new parts, even with new words. I’d HIGHLY recommend just throwing out MoC (and not just out of preference, I do like it) because learning new words to a familiar piece is just HARD! The major hurdle is that people just won’t look in hymnals for the ordinary. If you can get them to pick up a book (or a card) for it, a smart director (as I assume we all are) can get a new translation learned at his parish in a few weeks. Perhaps a lot of this opposition to the new translation is that people pride themselves on knowing their part in the Mass. To change what they do is to take away that pride somewhat and people have to say “ok, I’m lost, someone help me out.” That’s never easy to do (particularly with men and directions! – Just kidding, I’m good with directions and know when I’m lost.)

  6. Liam says:


    What I see as better has having 7-10 settings that are rotated more than seasonally, even weekly. Not a brand new one every week, but different familiar ones many weeks, with exceptions perhaps for short seasons. Nothing too rigid; shorter acclamations might be seasonal for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. It works quite well, once the settings are familiar. It keeps the choir and the congregation on their toes to prevent the settings from becoming like background music, which I think is very important, and I think is the chief and severe problem of the overly seasonal approach. Of course, I don’t see sufficiently good reason to require the entire ordinary from one setting must be used on any given day (we’re not talking Missa Papae Marcellae now, are we?), but believe that stylistically sympathetic movements from different settings can be mixed and matched to edifying effect without much effort. The congregations at my church do it without batting an eye, and I’ve been in two other communities – of very different demographics – where that has been the case, too.

  7. chironomo says:

    Joining in here for the first time. I have to agree with those who say that it shouldn’t be all THAT difficult to teach any new settings required. There will be some time required, but the six month timeframe doesn’t seem to be the “deadline” to have all of this learned out in the pews, but rather to have the implementation under way.

    There is, however a point that I have to disagree on:


    If this is in reference to the Directory for Music in the Liturgy, I have to strongly disagree. The silence on this issue from Rome so far is not for lack of concern, but awaiting several other issues to be resolved, primarily the called for revision of Music In Catholic Worship and a clearer picture of the call for greater use of Gregorian Chant and Latin in the liturgy coming from Sacramentum Caritatis. It is important to recall the letter from Cardinal Arinze to Bishop Skylstad concerning strict adherence to Liturgiam Authenticam, and the inability for the Holy See to approve proposals which do not fill the equirements of that document. (See my blog entry concerning the Directory at http://www.chironomo.blogspot.com). Given the importance of music to Pope Benedict, and the very clear mandates set out in LA and in SC, it seems unlikely to the greatest degree that they are “satisfied” with the proposal sent in November.

  8. chironomo says:

    my above entry did not insert the quote from Todd’s posting… it was

    “There doesn’t seem to be any concern for Rome on a list of Hymns, Songs and Psalms”

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